E3 2011: Call of Juarez: The Cartel hands-on preview

The first two Call of Juarez entries offered very good, but under-the-radar Western-themed shooter experiences, but for The Cartel, developer Techland is pursuing a slightly different tact: a modernized take on the Western aesthetic set in Mexico. Each player takes the role of a very different law enforcement official: an LAPD detective (Ben McCall, who is descended from the heroes of the previous entries), a DEA agent (Eddie Guerra), or an FBI operative (Kim Evans).

The three agents don’t trust each other, and each agency has its own motives and methods, which is sure to develop into some tense confrontations between the unlikely teammates. In fact, the setup almost reads like the basis of one truly ridiculous joke (“three cops walk into Mexico…”), but instead it provides the fodder for what looks to be a gritty and intense three-player co-op shooter experience. It’s playable online or individually with A.I. teammates, and the little morsel we played along the Mexican streets seemed fast and feverishly placed, with an emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties amidst the public shootouts.

Call of Juarez: The Cartel’s co-op aesthetic employs a mix of both cooperation and competition, as players will receive challenges to be the first to kill the most enemies or notch the most accurate spree. But E3 also served as an opportunity to check out the new story-based secret assignments. Each player will on occasion receive a text message from his/her agency that details an impromptu side quest – like meeting someone on the sly, or snagging an item – which fits within the storyline but goes against what your teammates might want you to do.

As such, you’ll need to do them away from your partners and can earn experience points if properly completed; otherwise, they’ll earn your points if they catch you in the act, and you’ll do the same if you witness another player pursuing his/her own agenda. These missions pop up in single-player as well, but only for you – the A.I. counterparts will keep an eye out for your actions, but won’t pursue their own secret agendas. Experience points are used for new weapons and upgrades, so these side missions are worthwhile ventures if you can pull them off without alerting your crew.

Despite a release date just weeks away on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (the PC version will follow a bit later), Techland isn’t revealing details on its fully competitive multiplayer modes, but they’re also in the package. The fact that The Cartel had only a couple of demo units in Ubisoft’s private E3 area – compared to elaborate show floor booths and decked-out rooms for other titles – didn’t seem like the greatest vote of confidence for the shooter, but perhaps it was simply a matter of being too close to the release date. Then again, the first two entries didn’t arrive with a very big PR push or widespread attention and still managed to surprise and entertain, so don’t count that curious move as a knock against this potentially entertaining co-op offering.

Jun 13, 2011

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